Dragonslayer (1981)
March 21, 2023 8:35 PM - Subscribe

A young wizarding apprentice is sent to kill a dragon which has been devouring girls from a nearby kingdom.

JustWatch listing. Free on Kanopy, pay to rent on Prime and other services, and it’s finally out on bluray in the US!
posted by skycrashesdown (19 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I looooove this movie, and for some reason it seems to have gone under the radar for many folks who I think might otherwise dig it. So if you like Excalibur, Beastmaster, Conan, etc. then give this a watch!
posted by skycrashesdown at 8:42 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]

(And the bluray has commentary from the director and Guillermo del Toro! I am just starting to listen to it now.)
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:08 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]

I recall very little of this movie from my single viewing of it forty-plus years ago, save the name of the dragon, which was awesome.

Suffice it to say that if this movie loomed larger in my memory, the line below this post would read:

posted by Vermithrax Pejorative at 1:51 AM on March 22
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:51 PM on March 21 [7 favorites]

Love this movie so much. Low key beautiful to look at and beautiful story. The archetypes are bare but the tone is reality-behind-the-myth, but not like tryhard gritty hnggh "piss shit blood fuck ass" Game of Thrones. The reality of this movie is just dreary, and everything's a sham.

And the character of Valerian definitely stirred my deep trans brain...

Really love when the king comes out and assumes his slaying pose.
posted by fleacircus at 12:12 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]

I love love love this movie, and I'm not even a big sword and sorcery fan. (Sci-fi is more my nerd jam.) I had a making-of magazine when I was a kid, and it was full of all this cool stuff that I can still rattle off. The colors of the clothes are deliberately drab to be period accurate, with the exception of the royals! The animated flames have lens flares and other stuff you'd only see through a camera, to fool your brain into thinking they're real! Go-motion! Let me tell you about the go-motion, guys! Wait, come back! I haven't told you about the go-motion!

The effects were truly stunning on the big screen, but years ago I saw the film on TV and the effects shots were full of those awful box artifacts you see sometimes when you watch older effects movies on TV. I don't know what they're called, but the Star Wars trilogy was lousy with them until Lucasfilm cleaned them up in the special editions. Like, a tie-fighter would zoom across the screen and there would be this bad, cut-out line around it, zig-zagging all over the place. Has the version of Dragonslayer available now been spiffed up, or is it still artifact-y as hell? I kind of don't want to see it again until I can witness Vermithrax in all her glory.

Valerian is indeed a fascinating character. He's this rough, scrappy boy, and then suddenly he's a badass girl and she becomes Galen's girlfriend in a pretty dress. It's a wonderful swerve for a story like this and I think it made a million little trans kiddies swoon. Caitlyn Clark never had the career she should have (it pretty much peaked here) and she died tragically young, while Pete MacNicol almost immediately aged out of playing boyishly handsome leads and went on to long career playing weirdos and bureaucrats. His characters tend to be repressed, nuts or both. He's always good but when I see him in anything now it's kind of hard to believe this is the kid who took on cinema's greatest dragon.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:02 AM on March 22 [11 favorites]

Another fan of the movie here. I saw it in the theater when it came out and was absolutely blown away by the dragon. (I've always been a big dragon fan.)

Yes, Valerian is great, but don't forget the princess who rigged the lottery because she didn't think it was fair that only the non-royals were entered.

I really like the whole thing.
posted by Archer25 at 7:49 AM on March 22 [6 favorites]

this is one of my FAVORITE movies of all times!!!! I love it so much and have seen it so many times. it holds up amazingly well and still has one of the best cinematic dragons ever. no CGI here, just good old dragon-y goodness. that sacrifice scene...(I won't tell you all how it makes me feel...)
posted by supermedusa at 9:06 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]

There's one shot that always gives me chills. Immediately after Vermithrax discovers their dead children, the dragon raises their head and stares hard into the camera. Yeah, someone is going to die for this.
posted by SPrintF at 10:39 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]

I got curious about Matthew Robbins, this film's writer/director, and he had a rather undistinguished directing career otherwise (stuff like Corvette Summer, The Legend of Billie Jean and Batteries Not Included) but he's written a number of interesting films, including a streak with Guillermo del Toro that's included Mimic, Crimson Peak and Pinocchio. He also did uncredited work on THX-1138, Jaws and Close Encounters! His directing career seems to be behind him and nowadays he splits his workload as a screenwriter between Hollywood and Bollywood. It's really sad this film didn't do better because I think Robbins probably had a bunch of great movies in him that we never got to see.

The cloud tank! I forgot to tell you about the cloud tank! (SLYT to a video showcase of various movie miracles that were achieved by stirring some goo into water.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:49 PM on March 22 [4 favorites]

In spite of being their target demographic when it came out, I never got a chance to see this movie. But thanks to your post and the commenters I will rectify that oversight immediately!
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 1:58 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]

I remember the final battle being absolutely epic, and am a little afraid to dig it up now. What say ye, fans? Epic?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 2:29 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]

One of the top 3 fantasy movies ever made and I'm having trouble thinking of the other 2 that beat it.
posted by mediareport at 3:20 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]

Valerian definitely found a place in my sixteen-year-old trans heart, back when this came out.

I'm rewatching it now, and I love her voice.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 5:53 PM on March 22 [4 favorites]

What say ye, fans? Epic?

I wouldn't call it that. In the context of the movie it's dramatic. Now the adults are fighting and the gloves are off! But it's like a slow-burn horror movie, you can't just cut out the part and have it stand on its own. It's not like.. Mandy that is always being as much as it can be at every moment.

Except for the shot where the dragon breathes fire on Galen. That is a van-side ready shot. Galen flees because that shit is too intense, it's not human scale, it's hero and wizard stuff, but people can't really live at that level of drama and power.
posted by fleacircus at 10:32 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]

I think to me this movie is about trying to find a gentler world.
posted by fleacircus at 10:55 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]

Wow people really like this movie - which I guess explains the recent physical release in the steelbook as well as standard editions. As a kid I really wanted to like it... but I just found so boring. I mean I like 80s fantasy films - they were totally made for my young teen self in the 80s. I like most of them - even Krull and Sword of the Valiant - this one just doesn't work for me. The pacing was so wearisomely protracted. The practical dragon effects are nice though.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:14 PM on March 23

This is everywhere in my world right now- my partner just got the blu-ray and I cannot explain why this movie I have never seen is suddenly everywhere in my life.
posted by jeoc at 4:42 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]

I was baffled when I watched it because at that age I thought ALL fantasy drew from Lord of the Rings, ranging from hommage to outright lifting, and here was Dragonslayer all of a sudden, still pretty familiar because it was drawing from the same sources but without as much as a nod to Tolkien.

(Oddly, the only movie property it feels related to is Monty Python and the Holy Grail, because they both seem to play in the same miserable dark ages medieval world with a fading sprinkle of fantasy cinematic universe, the only exception being one of them plays it completely straight. And Holy Grail is definitely the Deadpool in that shared universe. Anyway. Where was I ?)

At the same time the movie felt incredibly old and dated, so much so that I assumed it had to be some sort of movie classic. Maybe one of the first movies about killing a dragon, from a time even before Lotr, and it returned to the cinema for an anniversary or something?

And both plot and characters are so incredibly minimalist, like every bit of excess characterization was incinerated away with dragon fire. Good dragon fire! Which also makes it almost a perfect RPG adventure template btw. But which makes it even more incredible that the whole kind-of-trans thing with Valerian made it through the fire unscathed. It's almost a stamp of approval. Isn't it nice to be considered plot relevant and essential to a movie, without so many words?

I loved it in cinema. I went to watch it again the next day and then I ordered the book (I don't know if it is a book to film to book or a film to book deal. It felt more like film to book). It had movie stills and I learned how to sketch dragons from them. That was hard because all Vermithrax appearances are so so dark. Which makes perfect sense of course.

I liked how Galen got to try and fail at all the classic stunts of dragon slaying before he finally got it into his head that his was just doing a 'carry item a from b to c' quest all along and was not the protagonist of a classic hero journey after all.
posted by Ashenmote at 8:32 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]

Man, I saw this movie when it hit HBO, so maybe ‘83 or ‘84? Riveted. All I wanted was an androgynous girlfriend and a cool necklace with a green rock on it.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:09 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]

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